The Restorative CommUnity Coalition

~Reclaiming Lives Since 2006~




This poster was created to synthesize the emotional distress people experience as a result of a crisis, arrest, and then jailing happens.

It was started as a public inquiry since the Vera Institute of Justice recommended that the Coalition might want to do this research ourselves since there was no such research available at the time that the VERA Institute of Justice was doing a study in Whatcom County’s overall performance and it’s justice system process.

So, in 2018 Joy Gilfilen, President of the Restorative CommUnity Coalition, did an in-person, hands-on ethnographic research study on the impacts of an arrest on people, and to diagram what happens inside the emergency responder system from the point of an incident is reported, prior to an arrest, then what happened in the 24-72 hours before an arrested person goes to court and meets a public defender.

In this case, Joy interviewed 79 people who she had worked with as they were involved in the process. While 53 of the people had been arrested, another 26 were family members, loved ones or 1st responders dealing with the crisis impacts directly, or in the aftermath.

You can order this high-gloss poster for your office, for use with clients, for educating people about how jail trauma affects our entire community, and to understand why it starts a self-destructive process that costs everyone in our community when the trauma is not intercepted. See a more detailed description of the research conducted below.

The Study Details and Process:
Year – 2018
Interviewer: Joy Gilfilen
People Interviewed: – 79 Total – both male and female, 2 LGBTQ – All over 18 – All age groups – 53 were people who had been arrested and jailed in Whatcom County – 26 were friends, parents, family, partners, bosses, hospital or mental health providers, police, employees of the justice system including prosecutors, defenders, clerks, judges, probation and substance use providers, social service providers.

These interviews were conducted in 2018 over a period of several months.

Intake process: Joy asked people to talk with her for between 2-5 hours each to discuss the impact of the arrest on them and their families. The ultimate goal was to find out from them what could be done to fix the problems people have with the arrest, jail and justice system. Where were the hidden glitches that people fall into that the system could correct?

This was a summary of Joy’s observations afterwards. The chart was distributed back to the participants to get their feedback on the gleanings. They validated that the charts really captured their experiences overall, and were stunned at the comprehensiveness and accuracy of it to their experiences. Blindspots: Unexpected Findings from Jail Trauma Research

Wow! Check out this County in Oregon! While Whatcom County could easily have been the leader in justice reform, we just got ACE’s by Multnomah! Whatcom County could learn from them! And there is more to do, if the County will stop pretending that they need to build a jail – a public safety building – instead of providing the public’s safety! People need help right now more than ever! Follow the new leaders, and then learn and change!

Wapato Jail – a real boondoggle for Oregon. What a huge waste of taxpayers dollars, and a nightmare for the community. The County overbuilt the jail. They oversold the jail industry plan and convinced the civic leaders to buy the plan.

This whole boondoggle caused huge problems for taxpayers. Now it is likely to be demolished. This is a real lesson for Whatcom County taxpayers to not buy the Whatcom County law enforcement elected officials story that they need a new jail. We need accountability, not more taxes.

What happens to people when they get arrested? Most people don’t know because no-one really wants to talk about it.

Why not? Joy Gilfilen, President of the Restorative Community Coalition, did a quest to find out. It is disturbing to the soul. People who get arrested go through dramatic arrest shock and jail trauma before they ever even get to 1st Appearance. Before they meet any Public Defender, before bail. There is no safety zone at all.

Joy interviewed 79 people in an ethnographic research study inquiry:

  • 53 people had been arrested and went through the Whatcom County Jail and Justice System from beginning to end. All were still dealing with a lifetime of ripple effects.
  • These interviews caused her to interview another 26 who were friends, family, employers, criminal defense attorneys. There were employees of the system – police, defenders, prosecutors, clerks and other staff, jailers, emergency responders, hospital and mental health providers, and investigative writers. There were people of diverse demographics, education and financial class.
  • Of the 79 people, all were deeply concerned about the system. They were willing to talk about it for the purpose of hoping they could help fix it, and they had worked with the Coalition and had built up a level of trust. These were not easy conversations – for the subject is emotionally traumatizing to talk about. Each of the conversations were approximately 3 to 5 hours each.

Unexpectedly, Joy found in every case that the trauma starts at 1st contact with the law enforcement – often typically at the point of a 911 or EMS call.

  1. The incident triggers a whole string of events…from immediate reactions, then through an arrest, booking and jail.
  2. All along there are unanticipated and surprising costs that accrue inside and outside the justice system.
  3. Unexpected things happen to everyone who gets involved – there is no preparing for the process.
  4. Investigations and evaluations compound and more costs accrue sometimes before charging and often right away – as if people are guilty upon arrest.
  5. Eventually people get to court – and enter the halls and chambers of an interminable justice system where the language is unknown, the hoops, excessive fines, fees and extra costs overwhelm.

This study was enlightening – and shocking – when Joy recognized how many people are directly emotionally and dramatically harmed at the point of 1st Contact with a 911 or law enforcement call.

The extreme implicit bias and pre-conceptions of people is set up before anyone realizes what happens. Ironically this is due to excessive rules and regulation style measures being put in place. The impacts have increased as a result of technology, fear-mongering, and habitualized responses by institutions.

All of this is a recipe for creating and inflicting extreme trauma that derail entire families. A single arrest can throw an entire family into deep poverty for life. The arrest itself can cause breakups, mental illness, generational destruction. The good news is that once we understand what happens, we can see that the habits of doing this can be changed, and it is possible to intercept the cycle early.

This is podcast 1 of a multi-set of JoyTalks: Blindspots.
There will be a several in this series of Blindspots. LOCALLY we now know it is possible to intervene earlier in the process and stop the recidivism cycle BEFORE it starts, saving taxpayers potentially millions of dollars in unsustainable punishment systems. And it is probable that we can do this in this county if our officials can see the return on investment to the taxpayers. Once intercepted, it can change the habit patterns of entire institutional systems that are co-dependent on arresting people. It is to that end that Joy did this work to understand the needs of this population, and to understand how to speak with law enforcement and bureaucratic officials who have no way to hear this information.

Blindspots 1.2: Whatcom County Jail Trauma Research Study Episode 2
about discovering the false pre-assumptions that people make about an arrest.

Joy had no idea she herself would have blindspots even after years of researching the issues and working with people.

For example, she discovered that most people who get arrested go through such a dramatic arrest shock and jail trauma (before they ever even go to 1st Appearance and before they meet their Public Defender) that they are struck speechless – and can’t even talk about it. Not only are they silenced by the police and the courtrooms by warning: “You have the right to remain silent…” it is almost impossible for them to speak on their own defense, for the system is set up to not provide any opportunity to question anything, nor to get help if the system is not protecting anyone.

It is difficult to comprehend the impact, and they can’t make sense of it…it is almost like they have a split-reality experience. This caused Joy to start looking closer.

This study yielded some new information and wake up calls on how mental illness symptoms can be caused by this extreme shock. Even if people did not have those symptoms before the incident, virtually all of them feel the impact during the process and “don’t want to talk about it.” It causes deep fear and an inability to think straight.

Joy found that typically most people running the system just assume that the mental distress and emotional illness symptoms they often see in court pre-existed the arrest. And she also found that many of the professionals working in the system end up with trauma themselves, and don’t want to talk about it either.

It is a false presumption, and to not talk about it creates a blindspot at all levels. This is the 2nd in the series episodes.

Repetitive Acute Trauma (RAT) follows the initial shock of being that accused person who was in a crisis that led to an accusation, arrest, and now jailing.

Videos of Blindspots: Unexpected Findings from Jail Trauma Research – 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 discuss the initial Radicalized Acute Distress under Duress (RADD) feelings and symptoms that precede this video. Each of these videos relates directly to the emotional stress, that becomes distress and eventually total overwhelm to people who end up in the jail system the first time.

Joy Gilfilen, President of the Restorative Community Coalition, did a study of 79 people – 53 who entered the Whatcom County Jail and went through the courts and the justice system to find out what happened to them. Then interview 26 more who were family members, or people involved in the justice system.

These were intense conversations with people who had a tough time even talking about it – even after having been out of the system and were not technically at risk. Even discussing it years later causes re-traumatizing, and most people want to just forget and pretend it didn’t happen. The emotional trauma lasts a lifetime. The reaction is universal…each person was completely unprepared for the emotional assault on the physical, mental and emotional body, nor were they anticipating the after shocks.

Surprisingly, Joy found out in reviewing the data afterwards, all of those arrested were not considered “criminals” before they got arrested the first time. Their experience of going from innocent to instantly guilty and jailed in extreme hostile conditions as if guilty without any protection was mind-altering. It leads to people saying they felt they went into a vortex where there were “split realities” or like their minds just “shattered and broke”. It was surreal, where they could not comprehend or make sense of what was happening to them.

Joy did this study for many reasons, but when helping people at exiting the jail, she found that everyone pretty much says some version of: “I just can’t talk about it.” Or, “I don’t want to talk about it…I just can’t talk right now.” They deflect with “I’m ok. I just don’t want to talk about it.” And out of respect, we don’t ask. Joy found that the shock was so bad it was “unspeakable”.

Joy also interviewed 26 family members, friends, employers, 1st Responders, mental health professionals, defenders, prosecutors and others involved in the 911 incident or the process that followed.

She found that they too, pretend all is well, but that they are also disoriented and shocked from what happens to people. And they are shocked at what happened to them if they were the ones who called 911 for help for their loved one, or for someone in distress. To find their loved be arrested instead of helped is shocking. And to then themselves suddenly becoming the subject of an arrest – creates a similar disconnect from reality. In fact, it can throw the entire family into distress – which splits the mind of these who called for help, trusting the system.

This led to some people saying, “I will never call 911 to get help again.” The results are unspeakable. This summarizes what Joy learned from those 79 people.

Joy created this Blindspots – the Whatcom County Jail Trauma Chart – and the RADD-RAT chart to synthesize what happens.

It shows others the enormous emotions that many people exiting the jail system have gone through. This explains why many are radically traumatized and need help just thinking straight. And it is a clear indication of why people then cannot navigate the system, and why recidivism escalates afterwards. The arresting of people when they called 911 to get help destroys their belief that they are safe in America. It takes alot of work to recover that trust and to put families back together.

JoyTalks Episode 3 details what people reported happened to them emotionally when they are arrested. This part of the study is not about guilt or innocence, it is simply what people go through, and may help people understand how mental illness develops in the aftermath of an incident that leads to an arrest.

The variety of emotions and the gravity of them is astonishing. Until you hear people tell it, repeatedly by different folks, it is hard to comprehend – and it better explains to those who have never gone through it what happens to the mind, and why it is traumatizing at an extraordinary level.

The immediate and then compound ripple effects that come from just an arrest process, then a jailing process are serious and last a lifetime. All this happens before a court is even involved or a person is charged with a crime.

Blindspots: Unexpected Findings of Jail Trauma Research Study

Blindspots: Unexpected Findings from Jail Trauma Research

The immediate and then compound ripple effects that come from just an arrest process, then a jailing process are serious and last a lifetime. All this happens before a court is even involved or a person is charged with a crime.

This chart is a reflective diagram that Joy Gilfilen produced after deep many-hour long interviews with 79 people who have been involved with the Whatcom County Jail and Justice System. She interviewed 53 people who had been arrested and jailed previously. They were folks who had worked with her in reentry processes and were willing to open up emotionally (it is traumatizing to talk about – even second hand). They did it to help others, and help the system be reformed. The experience of finding out the depth of the trauma on people, caused Joy to interview 26 other people who were involved to seek confirmation of the impacts. She found out that there were hidden, secondary, and many layered psychological impacts and side-effects that lasted their lifetimes.

Joy interviewed loved ones, employers, 1st Responders, prosecutors and defenders, court, law enforcement, and emergency room staff who were involved. “These charts are rough to read, and raw. For we are not talking about the long term impacts on a person and their families. These charts are only about what happens in the first 24-72 hours after a crisis precipitated an arrest,” says Joy. “It was shocking to find that people go through a kind of “split-brain” or “split reality” experience that jars the soul deeply – because it cuts the foundation of safety in our lives away at the roots.” Why? “In every case, people needed help. They did not need an arrest to make lives worse – massively worse. People were involved in an accident where someone was hurt. Or they got in an argument with a friend, or were having trouble with legal medications or were dealing with chemical addictions, or deep emotional distress from a divorce, firing or death of another. They were in trouble, and needed help, yet it turned into an arrest and the psychological impacts were jarring – almost like a tsunami that no one expected. “I was blindsided as an interviewer, for I had never read anything about this. No-one talks about this in the Task Force, or justice system conversations. That talk is all about the crime – what happens AFTER people are arrested and go to court. It is not about what happened BEFORE people are charged in court. We have a gap. By the time they get to court, they are non-functional and emotionally traumatized by the process and are told to “remain silent”. “I found that people experience such unspeakable deep grief – they can’t even talk about it. They are in an early stage of something I called Complex Post Traumatic Shock and cannot think straight. “This is at the base of the problem: A human being made an error in judgement of some kind. They are already emotionally vulnerable, scared and grieving. Then, rather than receiving any help, they are prejudiced against (pre-judged): betrayed by the alleged “protectors” they are handcuffed, isolated and punished, disregarded, dismissed, thrown into a kind of purgatory – a hostile, terrifying environment where there is NO SAFETY. Only judgement, blame, shame and condemnation.” These charts are not about what else happens to people after they go to court the first time. This is only about the initial psychological shock and emotional impact of what happens in the space between the crisis and court.

Whatcom County Jail Trauma Chart

Whatcom County Jail Trauma Chart

The red and black side is the Whatcom County Jail Trauma side of the chart that lists the RADD-RAT symptoms – “Radicalized Acute Distress Under Duress” and the escalating “Repetitive Accelerating Trauma” that people arrested go through in the first 24-72 hours. The mostly yellow and black side is what happens to everyone including the family, friends and others involved. This impact is the unseen, subliminal Unexpected Findings that lie silently in social circles, hidden behind the “shameful” story of the “criminal”. The dramatic loss of reputation, the escalating and uncontrollable costs, the emotional shock and the long-term psychological impacts of having freedom taken away and families thrown into investigations and examination where a whole new reality appears. Inmates and even families are shunned and can end up living inside a kind of “hostile emotional purgatory” that they cannot escape from or even talk about. They are “branded” and labelled as networks, friends and allies disappear – often with the first news reports. Most of us only scratch the surface of the alleged “crime” itself and the court responses. Joy continues, “Even after 10 years studying thousands of people and helping with reentry and recovery in the families, I was stunned when I discovered the hurt is so deep and so tumultuous to the psyche that no-one ever wants to talk about it again. That hurt is silenced and buried, but the ripple effects continue for lifetimes, even generations.”

This was the first debate held about the Prosecutor’s position in decades! The incumbent prosecutor retired and had held the position virtually without competition for 44 years! As a result, this was a powerful educational opportunity for the public to learn how two different professionals would approach the position and do their job.

3-Step Civic Strategy:
Emotional Resilience Tools

After an arrest, an individual is thrown into an accelerated pattern of self-destructive emotional chaos. This arrest shock overwhelms their reasoning and coping skills. They experience acute emotional trauma such as shame, guilt, fear, sorrow, and then feelings of abandonment, betrayal, and isolation. Their world turns upside down as their freedom, rights, and voice are taken away. Stunned they go into emotional shock and lose the ability to think rationally, or do the things that they normally could do. Whether or not they are guilty, immediately they are hit with financial losses that affect their families, and everything starts into a downward spiral – all in the first 24-72 hours – far before they talk to any defender.


Using our Five Harm Reduction tools (where possible and logical) we intercept the spiralling emotional devastation caused by an incident. With straight talk, we help people early on, to understand accountability, process the grief and sorrow, and de-escalate further trauma to themself and others. Then immediately move them towards resolutionary action.

This supports reconciliation and recovery for all parties, bringing better health and wellness to everyone with dignity. We provide people mentoring to overcome the shock of trauma, so they can see what happened with new eyes – so they can take accountability and develop emotional stability. This may include taking restorative justice action immediately. It may include doing therapy and outreach, connecting people to mental health services, or helping people connect to their legal support, to a reconciliation specialist or to housing support. At this early point in a cycle, they may need a case manager or a court mentor to help them navigate a totally unfamiliar system that is control by rigid laws.


Right now, people who have been arrested and lost everything have no safe place to go as they deal with the consequences. They have often been homeless, in an abusive situation, or after leaving jail they need to re-acclimate from living in highly structured facilities with little opportunity to think independently. We have found that it is easier to re-enter society successfully, when a person is not so vulnerable to being preyed upon, and instead have mentoring to live better. They feel stronger when they are safe, warm, fed, and with a good night’s sleep. People are more likely to be able to meet the requirements of re-entry, of obtaining employment or enrolling in educational classes or on-the-job training to further ensure a stable lifestyle.

Our vision is to serve and develop housing for more than 150 at risk residents in multiple locations – short stay to longer retraining programs. The model uses an “each one, teach one” style of coaching and mentoring, that focuses on health, addiction recovery, functional literacy, life skills training, job retraining, and community living. It also focuses on case management, relationships, and restorative justice principles.

We start small, by fulfilling the basic human needs of safety – where they can go to simply think and wind down, and start the healing process. They learn how to self-manage and self-regulate in relationships with others, then how to go back into the workforce.


Retraining in a new field of education and employment is typically necessary. Their old situation was insufficient, and didn’t work to start with, and now they have a record that stops easy employment. So, they need a new path to economic self-sufficiency. The need for education is beyond gaining a GED. More than 40% of Whatcom County inmates are of second grade levels, and may have only basic reading, writing, and math skills. They will need tutoring, or a trade skill to develop.

We will team up with other service providers to help people look anew at what is available to them,in order to meet the market demand where it is today. Some can enroll in local classes. For those who have no marketable skill, our goal is develop self-sufficient businesses and hands-on learning programs where they can be taught how to work from entry-level up. We will work with existing non-profits who offer solutions, then with employers and entrepreneurs to create new opportunities and apprenticeship programs. Job coaches will be mentors who understand; have lived the experience themselves, and been successful, working hard to get back to work after their arrest or incarceration.


After analyzing data about Whatcom County’s Justice system for the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force, dated November 2017, the Vera Institute of Justice published a report that identified “the following factors contributing to jail overuse in Whatcom County:

  • Most admissions (62%) into the jail had non-felony charges as the most serious charge.
  • Charges related to substance use are a significant driver of both admissions and lengths of stay.
  • People who are pre-trial make up a significant portion of the Average Daily Population of the jail.
  • It is likely that some of the people in the jail have behavioral health needs that would be better served in the community Nearly one-third (32%) of people admitted to jail were referred to jail behavioral health services.
  • The Whatcom County Superior, District, and Bellingham Municipal Courts are not meeting prescribed time standards for resolving cases.
  • Native American, Black, and Hispanic people are over-represented in the jail population.”

Our Coalition has been interviewing people who have been arrested, jailed and who have gone through the justice system. We have found that at the street level analysis that virtually all the people who get arrested for non-violent situations, are getting arrested because they are emotionally hurting in the first place. Their emotional vulnerability caused them to make a mistake of some kind that turned into an accident or unfortunate incident. Specifically they may have used poor judgement, were impaired by self-medicating with alcohol or with legal or illegal drugs, or they were distressed and dealing with an emotional upheaval in their life. We found that a high number of these people would be far better served by being diverted out of the “jail and punishment based system” to get help with emotional resilience, conflict resolution, social coping and life skills. It would yield a far better return to the citizens, to their families and to our community rather than throwing them into a destructive spiral that causes them to losing their capacity to get back to work. Reading the chart above shows the debilitating sequence of destruction that afflicts families after a family member makes a mistake and gets into trouble by an arrest and jailing. It is counterproductive to a healthy community, and directly contributes to poverty

What are the “true costs” of incarceration? It’s complicated.

It’s ultimately a contrarian lose/lose/lose game.

People try to simplify the question of the growth of mass incarceration as a Good Guy vs. Bad Guy problem. Or as a good vs. evil problem. Or as a safety problem, like how we used the Sheriff out west to solve the range wars before we had modern day crime-fighters.

No. These are all false hero-villian misnomers that have been cultivated by decades of avoiding the original class or racial biases that arose from from slavery and genocide and developed into mass incarceration.

They avoid examining the misuse of the law and justice system as it has been commandeering and by a big business economic game that runs the power grid of a civic community. It is a game running below the surface, hidden in plain sight in polite, privileged social circles – where people don’t want to talk about the misery of conflict and the devastation of their family members by a flawed system.

It hurts.

So instead, leaders of commerce and industry, of institutions and the law deny, avoid and coverup to pretend that it is ok to keep doing the same thing. Typically because we don’t know how to solve such a huge, systemic problem.

The problem has been covered up by the story that punishment is the antidote to crime, and that increasing taxes are the antidote to a failing business model. The story has sold and propped up entire market segments. And it has worked to help us stay busy so we, the people, don’t have to address the debilitating fact that abuse addiction, punishment, jail to prison pipeline business patterns have been formed in our marketplace and they are truly business patterns, sales systems, and dramas that do not work for a country that prides itself on the ideal of freedom.

This story that people are “criminals who deserve to be punished” is a flawed belief that is unsustainable.

It is a story this is debilitating, and it is harming people for real.

It has taken years to examine and diagram the sales, marketing and business problem up close and personal in our local jail and justice system. It started as research into how it was that our top three elected law enforcement officials kept striving to pass a huge jail tax to build a big prison-like, (but supposedly local jail). But they did not have a true Needs Assessment and the plan did not pass muster, so over time the voters kept raising objections and resistance and we kept voting it down.

But these officials (with a 44 year veteran prosecutor) kept trying to bully us into buying it. So our Coalition started researching it. We went deeper and deeper into the social and political psychosis of the problem. Today we have finally diagrammed the flawed business model to our satisfaction.

This illustration is the story of how the money drives the hidden dynamics of the game. It is a diagram of how the big money is extracted from citizens to flow through and drive a highly complex tax addictive and abuse driven business model. It illustrates how the market for government and jail services locally is just one conversation. That spawns the demand for state and regional business growth in different sectors,. Then how it guts and consumes the people and the families who get caught in the system.

In other words, the business model (sold as being tough on crime, or as public safety) is underwritten by the people through our taxes and our trust of the legal authorities. The people who become the prey are those who are poor, abused and broken by trauma and fear become the commodity. that churns through the system repeatedly. Each person who fails increases in value to the economic system. So as the recidivism rate increases, the mass incarceration industry expands. It is a vicious and closed loop system that profits on the destruction of people.

The good news is that the story is a poor habit. Fear a poor habit, the business model is a poor habit.

And destructive habits can be changed and replaced by regenerative habits that yield a different result.

Over decades as the costs of jailing people have escalated and the criminal justice system has failed economically and socially, the politicians, the media and the industries that profit from mass incarceration have covered up the problem. WE can change the habit when we understand it.

Hear is the habit of behavior we can change, as people across the nation:

  • The problem has been an emotional hot potato. So people are vulnerable to manipulation. So, lets simply talk about it.
  • Fiscally it has been a nightmare for the local, state and national economy. So let’s stop putting money into jail expansion and instead invest iin people, in health, in recovery. We will get a better return for the taxpayers dollars.
  • It is a political nightmare since leadership has been lacking solutions. Well, the next few years are significant times to bring up innovative solutions and implement them. Let’s do that.

This whole thing is a trillion dollar media, marketing and political self-destructive business economy that is profiteering off the self-destruction. So let’s stop buying into it…let’s build an economy that revitalizes our local communities, our people. Let’s start healing people from the grassroots up. Start looking for solutions in your community, and share them.

Invest in people, instead of extracting from them. It works. It is a self-renewing business model. We will be sharing more soon.




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